by Anton Shilov
12/13/2012 | 05:02 PM
“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”
– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Although the chief executive officer of Advanced Micro Devices insists that the company should only use two process technology nodes at a time, other executives from the company believe that just two process technologies may not be enough. Moreover, in many cases proven nodes mean lower costs. In general, AMD expects process technologies to be utilized for longer periods than they are these days.
“It is getting tougher and tougher to get to new nodes. 28nm might be with us a little longer than people [think]. [It will be a while] before they jump into 20nm node or 16nm or 14nm,” said Devinder Kumar, the corporate controller and the interim chief financial officer, at Raymond James IT supply chain conference.
Both leading foundries on the planet – Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and GlobalFoundries – are working hard on development of thinner process technologies and their rapid ramp up as many customers these days, primarily those who develop various solutions for mobile devices, want the lowest possible power consumption. Globalfoundries, the main foundry partner of AMD, recently introduced 14nm XM [extreme mobility] fabrication process that uses 14nm FinFET devices combined with 20nm-LPM process back-end-of-line (BEOL) interconnect flow.
AMD currently does not have plans to use 14nm XM process technology since it has no plans to make chips for smartphones. However, a recent roadmap shows that the company plans to rely on 28nm fabrication process even in late 2014, when it launches its next-generation high-performance FX-series processors for desktops and new Opteron products for servers. As it appears, AMD wants to extend lifetime of nodes to ensure maximum availability and lowest cost.
“Our vision is extending the lifetime of nodes. I think we showed with our Brazos processors that were on 40nm for a long time and we competed very effectively with other products on the market that were two nodes ahead of us. We could sell at a nice cost profile and the functionality that the consumer wants today. […] So, no nodes transition is easy. […] Earlier this year we have brought our GPU products to 28nm. You will see [Kabini and Temash] APUs in the first half of next year on the 28nm. […] We have not said when we are going to 20nm, which would be the next node,” said Ruth Cotter, vice president of investor relations at the Raymond James conference.
It is not a secret that foundries are gradually increasing production prices on new nodes, especially those that require massive capital investments to ramp up. However, there is another reason why AMD is not truly interested in rapid transitions to newer process technologies: the company’s ambidextrous strategy.
The ambidextrous strategy implies usage of similar building blocks inside completely different chips. While it clearly lowers development costs, it also means that AMD will be unable to leap forward one particular product line. Each building block needs to be developed for a particular process technology to be efficient in terms of performance. At the same time, each building block needs to be tailored for different product designs to ensure high-performance across the board. Hence, to boost the speed of one product by taking advantage of a new manufacturing tech, AMD needs to redevelop virtually all building blocks it has and tailor them for all possible designs to ensure maximum performance and power-efficiency across the product family. Obviously, this takes time and money.
While all semiconductor companies tend to be careful with transitions to newer nodes, the leading semiconductor companies – Intel Corp., Samsung Electronics and Qualcomm – tend to make products using the most advanced fabrication technologies possible in order to sell the best chips in the industry. As it turns out, such an approach has always made a lot of sense…